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Chiropractors Withdraw Libel Suit Against Science Writer

15 April 2010 10:59 am
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The British Chiropractic Association (BCA) has dropped its libel claim against science writer Simon Singh. The decision comes just a few weeks after an appeal court ruled that Singh's article on chiropracty, which included a disputed use of the word "bogus," was commentary and not a statement of fact.

Singh's libel case, along with several other concerning scientists, has sparked outrage among researchers and cries for reforming England's libel laws. In a statement released today, Singh addressed some of the issues related to research, saying:

English libel law is so intimidating, so expensive, so hostile to serious journalists that it has a chilling effect on all areas of debate, silencing scientists, journalists, bloggers, human rights activists and everyone else who dares to tackle serious matters of public interest. In the area of medicine alone, fear of libel means that good research is not always published because those with vested interests might sue, and bad research that should be withdrawn is not pulled because the authors might sue the journal, and in both cases it is the public that loses out because the truth is never exposed. …

It is important to remember that another libel case involving medicine continues — Dr Peter Wilmshurst is a consultant cardiologist who is being sued for libel for raising serious concerns about the data relating to a new heart device. If Dr Wilmshurst loses his case then he will be bankrupted. It is ridiculous that a respected researcher such as Dr Wilmshurst, someone who has devoted his life to medicine, should be put under such pressure just for speaking his mind. Our libel laws discourage doctors, scientists and journalists from speaking out. It is only when Peter has hopefully defended his libel case that I will be able to celebrate.

Tracey Brown, managing director of Sense About Science, a U.K. group that has supported Singh and called for libel reform, also released statement, noting:

It is ludicrous that someone writing about an important subject like children's health could be dragged through the courts for years and at such cost.

However Simon's case has shone a light into the dark corner of legal threats being used to silence academics, scientists, bloggers, writers and scientists unable to sacrifice 2 years and £200,000 to defend their words. The case for a statutory public interest defence is well and truly made.

Sing and BCA must still resolve whether BCA will pay the writer's legal costs, estimated at more than £200,000.

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